How to Elope in NYC: The Essential Guide
When it comes to having a unique intimate wedding, you can hardly do better than to elope in NYC. The formula is simple: an amazing city, an easy paperwork process, and an attitude of adventure. The options are practically limitless for the type of wedding you can plan, from having an outdoor elopement in Central Park with just the two of you to renting out a Michelin Star restaurant for a 60-person luxury elopement. When planning a New York City elopement you truly are free to create exactly the wedding day you desire.
As a New York City elopement photographer for the past 7 years, I’ve had the pleasure of documenting the wedding stories of over 300 couples. I’ve helped all of them navigate the different options that are available and how the process works, so I decided to assemble my expertise on how to elope in NYC! What follows is a guide for anyone looking to get married in New York in a unique and stress-free manner.
Why should we elope in NYC?
There are lots of amazing places to get married in the world, but chances are if you’re reading this you don’t need any convincing that NYC is at the top of the list.
Let’s get a few things straight right off the bat:
- You’ll be getting married in an amazing city, and all of that is now at your fingertips to plan a very amazing day.
- Whether you’re a US Citizen or coming from overseas, the paperwork process is simple.
- The wait period after obtaining your marriage license is only 24 hours.
- You can extend your stay directly into an NYC honeymoon!
- You can plan something simple or elaborate, it’s totally up to you!
How to make everything legal
No matter what your wedding day ends up looking like, all couples have to go through the process of making it legal. While this may not be the most fun part of your intimate wedding (who likes paperwork?), the process is very streamlined.
Step One: Obtain your marriage license
First you’ll need to obtain the proper paperwork to get married — the marriage license. The Office of the New York City Clerk located at 141 Worth Street (in Manhattan) issues the $35 license, or you can visit any of the other locations in another borough. You can save a little time by starting the paperwork online at the City Clerk Online website, but either way you and your prospective spouse must finish the process together in person. More detailed information can be found on the Office of the New York City Clerk website.
Step Two: Perform the ceremony
After waiting a full 24 hours after receiving your license, you can perform your wedding ceremony. While most couples are opting to hire a private officiant these days, some couples still love getting married at City Hall along with other couples from all over the world.
Option A: Hire an elopement officiant
Once you have your marriage license you can get married anywhere in New York, so why limit yourself to a government office? You can be on The High Line amongst the fall foliage, on a rooftop terrace amongst the skyline at 620 Loft & Garden, or at an intimate venue like Frankies 457.
Hiring an officiant is the best way to craft a unique wedding day. You’ll be able to customize your ceremony with vows, readings, and other personal touches. Check out these tips for finding the perfect elopement officiant, and see whom I love to work with!
Option B: Get married at City Hall
Getting married at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau (aka City Hall) is truly a unique experience. On any given weekday, couples from all over the world come here to exchange vows. The waiting room is a people-watcher’s dream and you can’t help but bubble with excitement as you wait for your number to be called.
For elopement couples that want an easy way to tie the knot, getting married at City Hall is a good option. See our in-depth guide for more information on getting married at City Hall.
Step Three: International couples only
If you’re not a US citizen you’ll need to get an additional “long form” document after your ceremony has been performed. You’ll return to the City Clerk’s Office to obtain this and it will enable you to register the marriage back in your home country. If you’re from a non-English speaking country, you’ll also need to get an apostille. You can read more about the apostille at the Department of State’s website.
Start your wedding story at the beginning
If you’ll be staying at a special hotel when you elope in NYC, or you’ll have a few key guests getting ready with you, capturing photos before heading out the door to tie the knot is always a fantastic idea. Check out this in-depth guide on why getting ready photos still matter on an intimate wedding day.
Spending a few minutes styling your details lends a high-end touch to the photography coverage, and arranging a first look allows us to document the utter joy you feel when you see your partner all dressed up. See our profile of three great hotels to stay in when you elope in NYC.
Explore the city for wedding portraits
If you elope in NYC, there really aren’t any bad places to take portraits; it’s just about finding the right side of the city you want to show off. Some spots might include some logistical concerns, but we can pretty much go anywhere in the city and it will look amazing. But therein lies the problem! If everywhere is good, where exactly should we go?
The obvious locations are always popular — Central Park, Top of the Rock, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central, The High Line — and for good reason. They scream “we got married in New York City!” While it’s great to include the major landmarks, I encourage you to wander off the beaten path. A good strategy is to pick a neighborhood that has a certain vibe you love (eg, gritty hipster, or classic architecture, or skyline views) and we’ll explore organically from there.
Host a fabulous elopement reception
After all of the official stuff is taken care of, it’s time to party! If you’re thinking of hosting a laid back gathering there are great some great unique options throughout the city. You could get competitive over some shuffleboard, take over a bar for drinks and dancing, or have pizza at a rooftop waterfront restaurant.
For something more formal you’ll want to rent out a private event space like a fine dining restaurant or intimate venue. This will allow you to set the mood, style the room, and provide your guests with an amazing celebration.
There are way too many options to list here, so stay tuned for our in-depth guide on finding a unique reception venue!
Bonus: Travel in style when you elope in NYC
If you’re getting married in New York, even the standard ways of getting around are iconic. You can hop on the subway or into a yellow cab and the photos will just ooze with NYC vibes. And if you’re looking to take things up a notch, there’s a couple of really cool ways to get around.
My favorite is something truly classic and is hard to beat, short of getting in a helicopter (yeah, that’s an option too!) — taking a ride in a Checker cab. Peter at FilmCars has an array of classic cars to choose from and his Checker cabs are his top hit. Riding around town in one of these babies is so cool, and taking portraits with it is a really special addition to any elopement. I highly recommend splurging on one!